A major portion of the nation’s working people, especially those in the public sector, and school children in most places, started a long weekend Friday night. Monday is the national holiday honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Celebrations and commemorations during the weekend across the country mostly will be biracial or multiracial perhaps one of the few times during a calendar year when, by intent, people are brought together across racial lines. Many, if not most, of the observances will have some religious content. King, it always should be remembered, was a Baptist preacher whose convictions grew out of his faith.
Each observance of the King holiday should remind all Americans to take a measure of how far we’ve moved toward the core of King’s goals: equality and happiness in a society in which race is not the defining element of anyone’s life.
It’s also a time to remember that King’s great dream went further than the practical goal of his crusade for civil rights. His “I Have A Dream” speech on Aug. 28, 1963, became a defining moment in the civil rights movement and a transforming moment for many Americans who either heard it that day or heard rebroadcasts of it in ensuing years. It is a powerful speech drawn from the empowering words of American history and the soul-deep belief that something better awaits all Americans beyond a segregated life and a segregated society.
It is significant and entirely appropriate that among the most powerful forces working today for racial reconciliation are America’s churches. During King’s life and at the pinnacle of his career the churches most supportive of those goals were what’s called “Mainstream” or “Mainline” Protestants and Roman Catholics. Those remain committed to racial equality.
Others, who were not so deeply involved during the Civil Rights movement, now are in the vanguard of new efforts to unite citizens and eliminate racial barriers. Organizations like Promise Keepers, which cuts across lines within the Christian community as well as knocks down racial dividing lines, plans to sharpen its focus of actions promoting reconciliation.
Many other evangelicals the “conservatives” who were largely absent from the Civil Rights movement now are involved in unprecedented numbers and with inspiring enthusiasm in spiritual renewal that has racial reconciliation as a primary focus.
No honest person can deny that our nation needs racial healing as much today as in 1968. The legal bars of segregation are gone. It is our attitudes and hearts that need to be changed.
” … Now is the time,” King said in 1963, “to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. … With … faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”
We know in 1996 that the King holiday weekend is an appropriate time to begin hewing again the stone of hope and the symphony of brotherhood.